One day at a time

The skies this morning were foreboding when we awoke in Sonora, TX. The icy fog that motivated us to leave the Interstate had only deepened overnight, and the temperature had plummeted to 21 degrees. While we were warm inside the Airstream, I could see small deer foraging just a few feet away on frosty ground under a deep gray sky. It felt like winter in Vermont.

The Airstream was showing signs of the harsh weather. Splatters of road grime (and dare I say it? road salt from the bridges), and icicles hanging from the belly plan where the leaking water had escaped gave it a “rode hard and put away wet” look.

But the forecast from the weather service—and my own personal forecast for the day—were both positive. We had a list of challenges ahead, all of which I felt we could accomplish with just a little luck.

First, we needed the sun to break through and bring us temperatures above freezing so that the roads would be clear of ice. This happened by 10 a.m., right as predicted by the weather service. We waited a little longer to be sure the ice was melted, so our actual departure was about 11 a.m.

Next, we needed to drive 160 miles uneventfully to the nearest RV dealer with a parts shop, in Boerne TX, to find a new Shurflo city water fill (in chrome) to replace the leaking one on the Airstream. There was no guarantee that any of the white-box RV dealerships would have the part, so the night before I found three places that we could check.

Third, we needed to install the part in the Airstream without any “surprises” in the process. If my diagnosis were wrong, replacing the part would do no good. I was pretty sure the leak was from the water fill, but not 100% sure.

Fourth, we needed to find a place to spend the night, and we couldn’t know that until we finished the repair. I estimated the repair time at 30 minutes but who really knew what it would take until we got into it?

Fifth, we needed more propane. The cold air has really challenged our furnace and water heater. We filled one bottle of propane in Lordsburg NM on Monday, and now we had killed the other one.

Finally, atop all the other things was the cold virus I picked up last weekend. This morning I felt it more than any other day so far, and I was starting to wonder if I was going to lose steam early in the day.

All of these things were weighing on my mind as we prepared to go this morning, and I was trying not to be apprehensive. This trip is supposed to be fun (and it HAS been fun) so I didn’t want the little worries to overshadow the bigger picture: caravanning with friends across the country to a five-day party in Florida.

It all worked out. We drove in pure sunshine and dry roads all the way to Boerne. The first two dealers we checked didn’t stock the part (but one of them did have propane) and when it looked like nobody in town would carry a Shurflo water fill we pushed onward 40 miles to New Braunfels to Camping World. They had located what we needed and put it on hold at the parts desk for me. When we arrived they also said it would be no problem for us to do the replacement in their parking lot.

Replacing the water fill was dead easy. Four screws on the outside, one threaded swivel fitting on the inside, and a bit of prying to break the thing free of the caulk bedding. We had the new one in place in less than ten minutes, and it solved the leaking problem entirely. (Of course, it was easier because I already had some plumber’s tape and Par-Bond sealant in my tool bag. If I hadn’t, we would have had to do some more shopping.)

With a careful look at the old part, we could see that the threads had been bollixed by someone. There was a distinct flat spot, suggestive of cross-threading, which was prevented from leaking by some plumber’s tape. I think a bit of freezing was the catalyst to allow this marginal installation to finally let loose. It doesn’t leak a drop now that we’ve installed a new fill.

It was about 4 p.m. when we finished, so we decided to do some grocery shopping and overnight park at the Super Wal-Mart in Seguin. After dinner in our separate Airstreams, we met up for a movie here in our trailer. Alex brought some Betty Boop cartoons from 1932 for the pre-show. It’s our form of civilization.

We’ll hit the road again early in the morning. Our plan is to get well into Louisiana tomorrow, and —assuming no misadventures—arrive in Sarasota by Sunday night. But we’ll have to take it one day at a time, just as we have done so far.

Patagonia bound

I’m not talking about Patagonia, the region of South America — although I’d like to explore that area someday too.  We’ve got our own little Patagonia here in Arizona, a funky and stubborn village sitting just a few miles north of Mexico and adjacent to some of the best birding in the North America.

Patagonia is one of those places that makes you wonder “Why is this town here?”  There’s no industry and not a lot of tourism.  It is about a one hour drive south of Tucson along scenic Route 83, which winds through foothills and between mountain ranges all the way down to Nogales. The secret of the town is the long park that forms a greenbelt between the commercial center of town and the highway; this is where the railroad used to run.  Patagonia was once a mining town.  Now it’s an enclave for eccentrics and people who want small town life in a warm climate.

In 2006, when we were full-timing, we paused in Patagonia at the behest of our friends Charlie and Lynn, who winter there.  The next year we bought the house in Tucson and so we’ve managed to drop in on Charlie & Lynn in Patagonia again every year.  The centerpiece of this year’s visit was a picnic lunch orchestrated by Eleanor yesterday, served in the dining room of the little adobe casita that our friends rent.

patagonia-lunch.jpg

Since Charlie is a Mercedes enthusiast, and primarily responsible for my interest in the older cars, it was mandatory to take the 1984 Mercedes 300D down for the trip.  It was a good choice anyway, as the sedan is a lovely cruising car for open and winding roads like Route 83, and the trunk was big enough for the two coolers and one large wicker picnic basket that Eleanor had packed.

Of course, driving old cars is always a chancy game, and I have always known that there would come a day when a roadside repair would be needed.  This was that day (perhaps the first of many).  I’ve been running pure biodiesel in the car for a couple of months now, and biodiesel is an effective solvent, so it tends to loosen up all the old crud in the fuel tank.  That means eventually the fuel filters will clog up.  Sure enough, about eight miles into our trip I noticed a distinct lack of power on acceleration which felt exactly like fuel starvation.

We put up with it for about 30 miles but finally I pulled over along a dusty stretch of Rt 82 near Sahuarita and with Eleanor’s help quickly swapped out the primary fuel filter for a fresh one.  This is a simple job, involving merely loosening two hose clamps, removing the in-line filter, and then installing the new one.  The filter was pretty dirty, but unfortunately this didn’t solve the issue.  Along Rt 82 the road climbs to 5,000 feet of elevation, and the locals who traverse the road are not particularly patient with old cars that can’t break 40 MPH on the hills due to fuel problems.  We got aggressively passed a lot more than we deserved.

But all ended well, since I was also carrying a spare secondary fuel filter.  With Charlie’s assistance after lunch, I swapped that filter out and the 300D was happily returned to its normal fire-breathing 120-horsepower self, capable of zero to sixty in a leisurely 14.5 seconds.  OK, so that’s not really fast.  At least now we could get to 60 MPH.

Lunch, for those who are curious, consisted of a cold multi-bean soup with greek yogurt,  mushroom-and-onion quiche, French baguette and croissants from the local bakery, Eleanor’s homemade apple butter, apricot preserves, artichoke antipasto, slices of roast beef, fresh giant strawberries, black grapes, yellow cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, baba ghanoush, and apple and strawberry pastry puffs for dessert. After all that, dinner was popcorn.

It’s a good thing I like Patagonia, and the roads leading there, because I’ve got to go twice more in the next couple of weeks.  I am expecting to be on call to assist a friend who is going to be acquiring his first Airstream, and I’ve got to lead a group of local car guys down for a day trip.  This is a lot of driving but well worth it.  Being mostly flat, southern Arizona is not as abundant in twisty & fun drives as the northeast, an aspect of life that I will admit I miss.  The ride to P’gia is one of the good ones, and I recommend it to anyone who is down here to explore.

Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Show

When we last left off in the blog, there was some drama surrounding Brett’s lost luggage.  I am glad to report that it arrived at Palm Springs Airport on Friday morning, intact after a small tour of the southern United States.

While we were glad to finally get it (and the important items it contained for Modernism Week’s Vintage Trailer Show), it was a small hassle because Brett had to take off with the car while we were in the middle of shoe-horning 19 trailers into a small space.  This was far more logistically complex that you might think, since we had to juggle trailer spaces and vendors based on access, preference, electrical needs, and parking skills.  Our parking plan had gone through six revisions before the show, and there were still several last-minute swaps required to squeeze everyone in there.

Palm Springs MW 2011 Bowlus

That’s a 1935 Bowlus Road Chief, above, owned by John Long.

In the midst of everything, I got tapped by a videographer to talk about the trailers, so I quickly winged a few comments and they spliced them together later. You can see the video here on YouTube.

Still, it all got done by 2 p.m., and we got a short break to deal with our sunburns and hunger before meeting up with everyone at the Riviera’s “Bikini Bar.” We grabbed three of the curtained cabanas poolside and got a chance to chill out with the group.  In the photo:  Doug and Mona Heath, Kristiana Spaulding, me, Rob Super (with his homemade POP-rivet cap), and Kristiana’s husband Greg with his back to the camera. This was to be just one of the many socializing events, since Palm Springs is all about socializing.

Palm Springs MW 2011 reception

I had been feeling pretty ragged from lack of full sleep the previous few days, and combined with the hectic schedule and a sunburn, it was really starting to heap up on me.  I managed to stay awake for Charles Phoenix’s show at 8:30, and it was worth it, but as soon as it was over I grabbed my chance and slept for nine hours.

PS MW2011 Long-Winick

The weather forecast for Saturday was dismal: 90% chance of rain, and temperatures only in the upper 40s.  In Palm Springs, that’s parka weather, and indeed we saw a few people in poofy down parkas and fur-lined hoods.  In the morning things were wet with fresh rain and the low clouds made the desert mountains look like Hawaii.  We figured it could be a washout, but by 10:00 the rain was over and we started seeing patches of sunshine, then more and more until finally it was a fairly decent day.  And the Californians started to arrive, hundreds of them.

The trailer owners were in their element, talking restoration technique and historical details to everyone who came by.  I spent the morning shooting interiors (many of which you can see on my Flickr album), which was great in the morning with nice even light and few people crowding the trailers.

By afternoon there wasn’t much for us organizers to do, so Brett, Alison Turner, and I snuck off for a leisurely lunch in the hotel.  This was the first time we’ve ever been able to leave a trailer event that we’ve been organizing.  Usually we don’t get a chance to breathe, much less eat, so this was a huge treat. It felt like skipping class.

The show was scheduled to end by 2 p.m., but of course nobody wanted to leave, so it was well past 3 p.m. before the doors started closing.  We recruited some help from David Winick and his daughter Rebecca to count the ballots for the evening’s presentation of the Airstream Life “Wally” awards.

By 5 p.m. we were at the hotel’s Starlite Lounge for the next private reception (again, it’s all about the socializing here), complete with saxophone player/singer Johnny Reno and a four-piece band.  The big screen was playing a slideshow of the day’s events, and between sets of the band we presented the awards:

“Excellence in Modernism” went to Marty Snortum and Neveena Christi for their incredible 1960 Holiday House.

Holiday House trailer

modernism-week-award.jpg“People’s Choice” went to Doug and Mona Heath for their beautifully redone 1969 Airstream Tradewind.

“Owner’s Choice” went to Eric Bescoby for his amazingly restored 1948 Spartan Manor.

All of the trailers were incredible, well-received, and well worth seeing. Congratulations to the winners for their exceptional trailers!

And this evening we went out for dinner with our friends the Fabers, in downtown Palm Springs, with a stop at Lappert’s for ice cream.  Not a bad day at all, and the best part is that we get to do much of it again tomorrow.

Padre Island National Seashore

You’d think it wouldn’t be a surprise that Texas is really big, but for some reason I keep getting whacked over the head with that fact.  Our drive from Austin to Corpus Christi took five hours through endless flat terrain, with only a few small towns along the way to break up the scenery.

It wouldn’t have been a problem except that we were delayed in departure by a missing piece of mail.  I asked my assistant/office manager to forward some important mail from Tucson via FedEx to arrive Tuesday, but she took my instruction to mean any overnight service, and she chose USPS Express Mail.  The mail was “guaranteed” to arrive Tuesday by noon, but it disappeared from the radar on Tuesday and did not show up until five minutes before noon on Wednesday.

Departing at noon meant we pulled into Corpus Christi at 5 p.m.  Even this far south, that’s approximately sunset.  This changed our plan to camp on a deserted section of the Padre Island National Seashore.  I didn’t want to be driving the beach in the dark.

Padre Island is very long.  You first drive about 12 miles from the causeway bridge, heading southwest on Rt 22 into the national parkland.  That’s where Malaquite Campground and the Visitor Center can be found.  A little further down, the road ends at the beach and from there you can drive on the hard-packed sand for many miles.  In Texas, beaches are considered roads, so all the usual traffic laws apply plus a few especially for this beach.  Northbound traffic has the right of way, for example.

padre-island-high-surf.jpgThe first five miles are open to camping, and we had visions of parking the Airstream on the sand and having a spot to ourselves to watch the waves crash on the shore.  But  arriving late meant we needed to take a spot at Malaquite instead.

That turned out to be a good move.  The winds are high right now, which means lots of salt spray.  After our experience at Horseneck Beach in Massachusetts, where three days of salt spray resulted in a lot of damage, I didn’t want to subject the Airstream or the car to that again.  The sites at Malaquite are about 300-400 feet from the water’s edge, and partially protected by a low set of dunes with vegetation.

padre-island-malaquite-campground.jpg

Malaquite is not much more than a strip of parking lot with shade ramadas and bathrooms.  There are no hookups, but a dump station is nearby.  The showers are cold water, although I suppose you could technically say they are heated to about 70 degrees.  This may all sound very primitive, but keep in mind three things: (1) We are in an Airstream with all the comforts of home; (2) the campground costs just $8 per night; and (3) we’re camped right at the beach.

padre-island-oil-rigs.jpgIf we really wanted to camp directly on the beach — a rare thing these days — we could relocate today or tomorrow, but I think we will stay here.  The surf is very high and completely unswimmable, plus there are Portuguese Man O’Wars washing up.  It is only going to reach the upper 60s today, and with the fierce wind it feels kind of cold.  So we feel that we’re close enough to the water for now.  We can see the gulf oil rigs from our bedroom.

Along the road to Corpus Christi we paused in the town of Lockhart, another stop on the informal Texas Barbecue Trail, and bought a pound of brisket from Chisholm Trail BBQ.  This is for scientific purposes.  You see, we had dinner on Tuesday night at Rudy’s in Austin with our friend Gunny and tried their brisket (also their pork ribs and sausage).  Despite being a local chain, Rudy’s was really good, and so the next day when we saw from Rt 181 that we could fit into the parking lot of Chisholm Trail it seemed incumbent upon us to try their brisket for comparison.  I’ll let you know the results of that test soon.

I’ll also be reporting on solar again.  Being a no-hookup situation, we are back on solar power.  The forecast for the week is nothing but sunshine, so even being late in the year I expect we will have all the electrical power we will need.

However, the big downside to Malaquite Campground (other than the rattlesnakes that live in the dune vegetation) and beach camping on Padre Island is that cell phone service is close to non-existent.  Our phones do not work at all, and my Verizon data card is deeply troubled.  I managed to get my email last night after a few attempts, but file attachments and web browsing are out of the question.

So to post the blog, I have to drive for about 30 minutes to the public library for their free wifi, or at least to a point along the park entry road where Verizon’s signal penetrates.  This would be no good for serious work, but for Thursday and Friday this week I can make do.  We drove 250 miles to get here, and I’m not about to rush away from the beach even if it’s a little inconvenient.